White House won’t back proposals to regulate Internet in UN treaty talks

White House officials warned on Tuesday that the United States would not support a United Nations treaty that gives governments more control over the Internet. 

Administration officials argued in a blog post that the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) taking place in Dubai “should be about updating a public telecommunications treaty to reflect today’s market-based realities — not a new venue to create regulations on the Internet, private networks, or the data flowing across them.” 

The treaty conference is set to wrap up on Friday, so member countries of the U.N. International Telecommunications Union (ITU) are running out of time to make their final updates to the treaty, which would set global telecommunications regulations. 

Delegates have been working around the clock to meet the deadline, but have yet to find consensus on several of the most pressing issues, including whether the treaty will apply to the Internet or only traditional telecommunications networks.

White House officials made clear that the U.S. would not support the treaty if it disrupts the governance structure of the Internet.

“Millions in the United States and around the world have already added their voices to this conversation, and their position is clear: they do not want the WCIT to govern the Internet or legitimize more state control over online content,” the officials wrote. “Our administration could not agree more — and will not support a treaty that sets that kind of precedent.”

The blog post was published by White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel, U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Telecommunications Tom Power and R. David Edelman, senior adviser for Internet policy

The U.S. has spoken out against a proposal submitted to the ITU’s official conference record by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Russia, China and other Arab and African countries that calls for governments to have “equal rights” over managing the Internet, according to a leaked copy of the text posted to 

That proposal would apply the treaty’s measures to “operating agencies,” which U.S. officials fear would ensnare major Internet players like Google and Skype.

U.S. delegates have argued that the management of the Internet should continue to be overseen by a variety of public and private organizations, not a single government or entity. They also contend that the treaty should apply to telecommunications providers like AT&T and Verizon, and not Internet networks. 

The ITU on Monday said the UAE submission had been withdrawn. However, the proposal resurfaced on Tuesday, and the U.N. agency confirmed it was submitted as part of the official conference record.

An ITU spokeswoman said Russia, China and the other backers of the proposal are “now looking at a consolidated contribution” by conference Chairman Mohamed al-Ghanim. The chairman’s proposal is a compilation of all the text submitted during the conference by countries. 

After the UAE proposal surfaced online, U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer said in a statement that U.S. delegates are concerned “that several delegations at this conference continue to attempt to introduce Internet-related proposals that are outside the scope” of the treaty. 

“The U.S. will continue to engage in good-faith discussions with other delegations, despite these attempts to derail the focus of conference negotiations,” said Kramer, who is leading the U.S. delegation. 

He welcomed the compromise proposal put forward by al-Ghanim, saying the U.S. “believes it is the basis for any further progress toward reaching an agreement at this conference.”

—This post was updated at 12:41 p.m. and 6:11 p.m. to note the UAE proposal was submitted to the official conference record.


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